People around the world find themselves in the midst of one great, shared experience. Social distancing and large-scalquarantine measures became the norm in the months of March and April for many in the U.S. Colleges and schools stand empty, workplace conversations take place on laptops around kitchen tables or, in many industries, not at all. We spoke with a few of our members whose lives, work and studies have been directly impacted since governments across the U.S. took measures to slow COVID-19’s spread.

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is a professor at Rose State College, Midwest City, Oklahoma and taught as a Visiting Professor at the University of Oklahoma. Formerly, she was a professor at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. She received her Ph.D. in English Literature and her Masters in Postcolonial Literature and Theory at the University of Oklahoma. Author of several published articles, book reviews and editorials, she has edited Parchment of Kashmir, a collection of essays on Jammu and Kashmir, written four books, including The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism and Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between Indian and Pakistan.

Nyla Khan

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan

How did the COVID-19 issue impact your day-to-day work?

“The transition to the virtual world has not been a cakewalk for everyone. Several people, particularly of my parents’ generation, are not technology friendly but are now having to adapt to talking with friends and family via Skype or Zoom.

“I have several students who are trying to make ends meet in the midst of this unforeseen crisis. Some of them are now working two jobs, so they can pay their bills.

“Others are working hard to support those of their family members who have been furloughed. There are some who don’t have Wifi access or erratic internet connections, and cannot participate in Zoom meetings as efficiently as they would like to. A couple of days ago, one of my students participated in a Zoom meeting from her car, because her entire family was in the house and she couldn’t concentrate. I saw determination and perseverance in these kids. Several of them pushed themselves to meet deadlines and step up to the plate. They learned to see their challenges as opportunities to grow, and, as an academic, I am here for them.

“While the transition to online classes came with its set of challenges, my students did not throw in the towel. On the contrary, they adjusted to their new reality with a newfound confidence. In the last Zoom session with one of my classes earlier today, everyone got a little sentimental while acknowledging how much we had learned from one another. I am glad that my students and I were able to create a safe environment in which we examined our locations of privilege and sought emotional empowerment in order to understand systems that have generated a culture of silence about systemic discrimination. It has been an invaluable educational experience to hear my students make presentations on their intellectual interests in a world transformed by COVID-19.”

Have there been any positives you can point to in terms of new ways of doing business or working that have come during this time?

“In the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19, bewilderment reigns supreme. Self-imposed isolation is the new social order. People are experiencing a loneliness epidemic because of social distancing. Compassion is rarely expressed, because everyone is looking out for her/himself. I have realized that we need a global response not just to COVID-19 but to humanitarian disasters that have followed in its wake. A lot of us focus on big achievements, forgetting that the small moments count as much as the big ones.

“When it comes to my students, I want to be present not just for the big moments, but for the small ones as well. There is potential for meaning in every moment. COVID-19 compels me to rethink perceptions that some of us thought were unquestionable and self-axiomatic.

“During this period, my students and I built bridges and worked with sincerity. We cannot afford to hamper progressive political and social change. We realized more than ever that we cannot afford to section off humanity into various “races” and various “worlds,” because that robs us of our power to prevent disease from destroying the world. In spite of the physical delineation of the boundaries, we all live in one zone. Our hopes, aspirations, fears, and dangers are the same.

“During this period, my students and I realized more than ever that we are all connected by the common bond of humanity, and that we can take control by holding up with dignity and resilience when adversity knocks on our doors.”

In terms of your international activities, how have those been impacted by the past three months?

“All of us are trying to adjust to the unforeseen changes brought about by the onset of COVID-19. Although traveling to other parts of the world has been incredibly difficult, my life has not been devoid of meaning.

“I have continued to write for international periodicals/ publications, and my work on issues of global import has been appearing in print as well as online editions of those publications. I was also interviewed by the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies, Pakistan, which has recently launched a digital live show, “Global Women Insight,” to talk with “inspiring women leaders about their lives, struggles, and leadership.” My interview was watched by an audience comprising people from various parts of the world, particularly South Asia.”

Representative Mark McBride talks with students at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Representative Mark McBride talks with students at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

What looked unlikely a few months ago came to fruition on April 3 as international students from universities across Oklahoma joined Governor Kevin Stitt, Secretary for Native American Affairs Lisa Billy and more than a dozen state legislators for International Student Recognition Day at the Capitol.

Former State Legislator Travis Dunlap was the point person in organizing the event at the capitol in prior years. With his departure coinciding with a changeover in OKGIT leadership at the start of 2019 made the task of organizing the event – taking place the same day as the Oklahoma World Trade Conference – seem unlikely.

Fortunately for the OKGIT, Representative Mark McBride heard about the event and stepped into the preparations. With OKGIT Chair Douglas Price of Tulsa Community College and OKGIT member Jared Scism of the University of Central Oklahoma, the 2019 event came together on a very tight timeline. More than 40 students from 37 countries who are currently enrolled at six Oklahoma higher learning institutions visited the statehouse and heard about the business of governing from speakers like Governor Stitt, Secretary Billy and Representative McBride.

The day offered an opportunity for all. Students hailing from governing systems across the political spectrum got to see the day-to-day legislative process of representative government while in session. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s elected leaders got to meet individuals who have left home to live and study in the Sooner State.

To learn more about the Oklahoma Governor’s International Team partnerships with international student and study abroad programs, please visit

At the recent Oklahoma Governor’s International Team meeting on May 16, Oklahoma Secretary of State Dave Lopez noted the opportunities available for those seeking work via apprenticeships in firms and government programs based in the state. Indeed, the need for such training positions looks likely to increase as the American economy works through the structural changes impacting so many current and future employees.

According to a piece by Melanie Dunn in Forbes, there is a growing need for apprenticeships in the American economy.

“Today there are nearly 5.5 million jobs that can’t be filled. The reason that they can’t be filled is that employers can’t find people with the right credentials to do the work. And job openings like this will continue to grow. Between now and 2030 it’s estimated that 50 million Baby Boomers will retire. And we have no plan for how to replace them. Another estimated 25 million new jobs will be created due to technological advancements.

“The fact is, we make it hard to get to work in this country. The economy has changed. Most people cannot afford college and drop out, 3.5 million per year (data calculated from National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). That’s 750,000 more than graduate with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees combined. The job market has changed. Today 60% of the job market is for jobs that require some education beyond high school but not four-year academic degrees.”

In Oklahoma there are numerous opportunities for apprenticeships, and here are a few resources domestically as well as some available with international firms.

According to the Dunn article, Australia, Canada and western European nations made significant steps in finding opportunities for those seeking stable employment without the requirement of a four year degree via apprenticeship programs. Here are a few examples.

The immense academic experience that students interested in the wider world receive at the University of Oklahoma is set to get even more in depth as OU recently announced that it has plans on adding a Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies. Thanks in part to a $4 million donation by the Farzaneh Family Foundation, future Sooners will have an opportunity to develop a better cultural understanding, appreciation and awareness of the United States and its relations with Iran and the Middle East.

The gift is the largest of its kind in the university’s history from former students who came to OU from international destinations. Brothers Jalal and Mohammad Farzaneh are both graduates of OU, holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Norman-based institution. They own one of Oklahoma’s most well known home construction companies, Home Creations. They came to Oklahoma in 1978 from Iran.

According to the report in the Oklahoman newspaper, “The gift will help fund scholarships for Iranian students and for students studying Persian language, three endowed professorships, an endowed lectureship, and a prize for Iranian Literature. The gift also will establish a Persian artwork fund and an endowed Persian book collection.”

Read more the full story online here.

This isn’t the first time the Farzanehs have supported higher education in Oklahoma. In February 2015, they made a gift of $1.6 million to Oklahoma State University which will support a faculty chair and four professorships in Iranian and Persian Gulf studies. According to OSU, the total impact will be more than $6 million after adding the matching funds from Boone Pickens and the Oklahoma Legislature.


Walking across the University of Central Oklahoma, it’s not uncommon to hear a number of languages spoken as students traverse the Edmond, Oklahoma-based campus. Home to students from a wide range of destinations, UCO has become a premier draw for international students seeking an affordable and well regarded education. One of the first stops for many of these students is the UCO International House, a place focused on facilitating global engagement between students, professors and staff from the U.S. and abroad.

The OKGIT spoke with the UCO International House’s Jared Scism, international activities specialist, about his organization’s mission inside the wider UCO community.

What is the purpose of the UCO International House? Practically speaking, why is it important for an Oklahoma university to have these international connections?

 “The UCO International House facilitates global engagement and intercultural proficiencies by bringing UCO’s students, faculty, staff together with the Edmond and greater Oklahoma City community. Having these international connections at UCO provides UCO and the Oklahoma City metropolitan community with an unmatched intercultural environment as well as showcasing UCO as a center for globalism.”

What are some of the activities and services that UCO International House provides to students? Is it only for those students who are from abroad, or are the American students welcome too?High Tea

“Whether it is to celebrate a holiday from their home country or to promote their culture, at least one or two country associations from UCO’s International Student Council host a cultural activity each month. The International House can also be reserved by students, domestic or international, to host their own events, such as student association meetings, fundraising events and personal gatherings.

“Every Friday from 1-4 p.m., the International House staff conducts a British high tea ceremony. This cultural experience allows guests to learn about and taste tea from high mountain areas of different parts of Asia, as well as providing them the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with people from around the world.

“The International House also provides accommodations for international students in emergency situations as well as visiting professors and delegates from all over the world.

“Although the main purpose of the International House is to facilitate global engagement, it is open to the entire UCO community as well as members of the Edmond and Oklahoma City metro.”

Why has UCO, a university in the middle of the country and hours away from the nearest international border, become home to so many students from abroad?

“There are several reasons for UCO becoming home to international students, one of which is the International House. International students also appreciate the affordability, hospitality, small class sizes, the interaction they have with their professors and UCO’s intercultural programs. There is also a lot of intensive recruitment and retention taking place at UCO.”

How often do students that are affiliated with the International House stay in Oklahoma after graduation? Are there any “success stories” that come to mind of former participants who are now succeeding in OK or the nearby region?

“The story below is a success story about the former manager of the International House, Nela Mrchkovska:

“I am currently an occupational injury examiner at Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. Risk Management Department. UCO in general helped me to become the person I am and to have the passions and aspirations I now pursue. The welcoming environment, the quality of education and the evident diversity on campus helps every student, and international student in particular, to feel welcomed and motivated to learn and grow. The UCO International House was an especially important involvement of mine during my college years. I believe that the UCO International House’s vision embodies all of the characteristics that I cherish about UCO, and I believe that when I write this, I speak on behalf of the majority of students who have had a chance to be guests of the International House. Being a manager of the International House, interacting with such a diverse community and being a part of something so unique, definitely gave me the confidence I needed to pursue what I sometimes would forget was entrenched in me, and that is the desire to help create equal opportunities for all of the children and young people by expanding the borders of opportunities for all.   

“I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I was given here in Oklahoma. Because of that, my plan is to continue grow in this state and hopefully with that, give back and contribute to the well being of it.”

What is the biggest challenge that you and your staff face in stemming from your experience working at the UCO International House?

“The biggest challenge the International House currently faces is lack of funding. While we are very pleased about the success the International House has had thus far, limited funding prevents us from fulfilling some of the visions we have to bring the House to its full potential. We hope to see the International House continue to grow and carry on as a “rising showpiece” of the University of Central Oklahoma.”